By Jeff Horwitz and Tim Higgins 

Alphabet Inc.'s Google late Friday suspended Parler, a free-speech focused social-media network favored by conservatives, for failing to moderate incitements to violence and illegal activity, and Apple Inc. threatened to do the same.

Google said it acted because of "continued posting in the Parler app that seeks to incite ongoing violence in the U.S.," which violated its requirements for sufficient moderation of egregious content for apps it distributes. "In light of this ongoing and urgent public safety threat, we are suspending the app's listings from the Play Store until it addresses these issues," a Google representative said.

Apple told Parler it received complaints regarding objectionable content on the service and accusations the app was used to plan, coordinate and facilitate illegal activities, according to a notice provided to The Wall Street Journal by John Matze, Parler's chief executive.

The tech giant said in order for Parler to remain available in the App Store, it had to provide detailed information about its content-moderation plans and "what you will do to improve moderation and content filtering your service for this kind of objectionable content going forward."

Apple set a deadline of 24 hours for Parler's compliance.

Launched in 2018, Parler has billed itself as a free-speech friendly and content-recommendation free alternative to larger social networks such as Facebook and Twitter. It has exploded in popularity in the run-up to and after the 2020 U.S. presidential election

While Parler bans spam, threats of violence and other illegal activity, its rules don't prohibit hate speech and false information.

Mr. Matze said Parler believes its existing rules against incitements to violence meet Apple's standards and that Parler is confident that "we can retain our values and make Apple happy quickly."

Nonetheless, Mr. Matze said, he was nervous "because the text in their messaging was fairly confrontational."

The decisions on Parler come as Twitter Inc. on Friday permanently suspended President Trump's personal account, saying recent tweets risked a further incitement of violence after the deadly Capitol riot. The actions were roundly panned by conservatives online who said the ban illustrated bias against users such as Mr. Trump.

In recent years, Apple and Google have also shown a willingness in the U.S. to pull content from far-right creators deemed controversial, pulling Infowars podcasts in 2018 and Gab AI Inc., a social media app, in 2017. In pulling five Infowars podcasts, Apple said at the time, they didn't comply with guidelines designed to create a safe environment for users. Google's YouTube terminated channels related to InfoWars in 2018.

The move comes as Apple and other big tech companies are under scrutiny by regulators and lawmakers around the world for the power they hold over digital ecosystems.

In recent weeks, Apple has been accused of keeping politically sensitive apps from being distributed on its store in China to appease authorities there. Apple has defended itself by saying it follows the rules and laws where it operates.

In the wake of the riot at the Capitol Wednesday, Apple and Google have faced pressure to remove Parler from their respective app marketplaces.

Sleeping Giants, a liberal activist group, called on both platforms to take action against Parler, which saw a massive growth in new accounts in the days following the election as mainstream social media networks cracked down on unfounded claims that the election was stolen from Mr. Trump. Citing posts in which Parler users called for Vice President Pence to be "put in front of a firing squad" and threatened additional violence ahead of the inauguration, the group began a lobbying campaign under the hashtag #PullParler.

Kate Klonick, an assistant law professor at St. John's University who studies content moderation, said that Apple's move reflected its longstanding power over what apps people can readily put on their phones.

"Apple decides what platforms and applications can and cannot exist, and it does so without accountability or transparency," she said. "If this is a moment for people to think about how much control Apple has over the information ecosystem, that's a good thing."

Write to Jeff Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com and Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 08, 2021 21:15 ET (02:15 GMT)

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